Home / Joseph Grabowski / Organic Living: You’re “Doing It” Wrong

 

In a memorable scene of Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing, from an episode in one of the later seasons, White House staffer Will Bailey is discussing with a team of interns a script for a possible political ad. To paraphrase the scene described: “A family station wagon headed up a mountain road: mom and dad up front, the crying in the backseat and Rex the dog whining, the car stalling: dad getting out of the driver’s seat, and he’s wearing a gas mask; and as the shot pulls away, the cause of his problems: he’s towing an oil tanker.”

The basic student of rhetoric will be familiar with the three classical appeals outlined by Aristotle—logos, ethos, and pathos—and will recognize this obviously as a quintessential message of the latter sort, the pathos appeal. This appeal to commonly-shared values which correspond to emotional reactions in the attending subject is in some ways the weakest, but in other ways the strongest, of the appeals of rhetoric. Doubtless it is the most common in political discourse nowadays.

Imagine this, then: “Scene: a grocery store aisle, the words ‘organic’ and ‘anti-biotic free’ emblazoned everywhere the eye turns; a mother lifting her crying babe from the shopping cart and pulling it toward her breast; the child screaming and struggling to get away, and as the woman begins to turn down her collar to provide an avenue of nourishment for her child, a tattoo revealed of the skull and cross-bones, universal icon of POISON.”

Well, okay, we’ll admit there’s more than one reason I don’t craft political ads for a living. The goal of the ad should be obvious enough: that, even amidst our culture’s craze for organic living and healthy food choices, human breast-milk often goes unremarked for being (ironically) one of the most toxic food-sources available to a newborn—a fact pointed out by many studies.[1]

But the flaw of the message in this “ad” goes beyond my admittedly ham-fisted approach in crafting it: it’s in the appeal itself. The pathos appeal doesn’t allow the careful distinctions that are wanted for the important matters our politics often needs to parse; nonetheless, it remains the go-to methodology for vote-getting and scare-mongering. A viewer of my “ad,” for example, might think its upshot is to condemn breastfeeding as an undesirable choice: but that is certainly far from my intent. But how, in our sound-bite culture and lazy intellectual milieu, to communicate instead the deep and subtle irony at work? One thing’s for certain, Twitter doesn’t offer the solution.

Why mention Twitter? Because this social network—famous (or infamous?) for imposing the limitation of 140 characters on all messages—has been the locus of a recent controversy surrounding organic foods, a controversy imbricated with the irony of how often unhealthy tendencies characterize many of those seeking so desperately after “healthy alternatives.”

The controversy I have in mind has to do with Eden Foods, Inc., the oldest and largest family-owned organic produce company in North America. Until recently a doyen of trendy liberals who pride themselves on “reading the label,” the company has now come under fire from within its ardent fan-base. Why? Because in March the company’s founder, Michael Potter, was announced as party to a suit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services complaining of the so-called “HHS Mandate.” The mandate is a rule pursuant to the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) that stipulates contraceptives be covered in all health plans offered for employees (unless you’re one of the lucky companies or labor unions offered an exemption). The suit, filed on behalf of Potter by the Thomas More Law Center, points to the company owner’s Catholic faith as one reason for objecting to the rule; but Potter’s reasons don’t stop there.

Potter is, you see, serious about the mission of his company: the “healthy choice” and the “environmental-friendly alternative”. And, as his remarks in the press have revealed, Potter sees a fundamental contradiction between seeking to eliminate toxins, artificial hormones, chemicals, and antibiotics from our crops and our diets, on the one hand; and then turning around and taking those same toxins into our bodies directly, in the form of over-the-counter or prescription oral contraceptives (and thence passing those toxins either into the environment through excretion or into one’s children through reproduction).

But Potter’s now-former supporters will have none of it. They’ve taken Twitter to vent their vitriolic frustration in 140-character-long hit pieces, coining trend-markers (i.e., the ubiquitous “hash tags”) such as #SexismFreeFoods, and excoriating Potter for hiding a “right-wing agenda,” for conducting a “crusade against birth control,” and for espousing an “anti-woman” ethic.

Now, it’s noteworthy that if one searches “Eden Foods” on Twitter, you’ll find the “conversation” (such as it is) remarkably one-sided—and not for lack of effort by people like me who are “standing with Eden Foods”.[2] But this one-sidedness in representation makes the claim that Potter is somehow tightly networked with “right wing conservatives” rather laughable. I am one of the few very vocal supporters of Eden Foods any Google search even might turn up; and I personally would reject vehemently any assignation of “right-wing” ideologue (or even “conservative,” for that matter, insofar as the term indexes any pre-fabbed set of recognizable political leanings). It may disappoint the Twittering classes and make for a weaker pathos appeal, but the facts of this case are simply more complex than a 140-character summation could ever capture.

Eden Foods’ lawsuit is about sustainability and subsidiarity. It is about the nature of law itself and whether any law that compels material cooperation in evil can be a just one (hint: Aquinas says “no”). It is about the rights of conscience and the compartmentalization of religion. It is about attempts to subjugate the sciences of ethics and philosophy to those of politics and economics.

But most of all, the case is about when the occasional hard nut to crack crops up in the pile of old chestnuts that constitutes our party politicking and cultural cliquing. It is a point of fascinating collision when hippy liberal ecological values meet crusty conservative social ones. It is an exhibit of the ironic contradictions which so many people live out from day to day without ever taking critical inventory of their internal consistencies and external constituencies. And it is an emblem of how desperately we need to reshape our public discourse to grapple with problems that tweets and political ads, for all their pathos appeal, cannot ever comprehend.


End Notes

[1]. See, for example, the work of the MOMS initiative (“Making our Milk Safe”) at http://www.safemilk.org/about/.

[2]. For more information on this case, visit the author’s website at www.StandingWithEdenFoods.com.

 

About the author: Joseph Grabowski

 

Joseph Grabowski is an independent researcher and scholar. He holds an MA in English from Marquette University and is presently working toward his Masters in Education from Villanova University. A native of the coal hills of Pennsylvania, Joseph lives now in Philadelphia with his dog named Belloc.

 

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18 Comments

  1. I’m a bit skeptical that breast milk has much in the way of toxins in it, except perhaps, where a mother is ingesting contraceptive chemicals. But other than that I agree that there is a huge disconnect in people who obsess about “toxins” and then ingest them freely for that sake of not having a baby.

  2. In comparison to the fiscal libertines, distributists are the only conservatives left. EVERYBODY ELSE IS HOPELESSLY LIBERAL- to the point of having blind biases.

  3. Louise, I suppose perhaps “toxins” is a bit of a misleading term. Most doctors recommend that mothers cease all hormonal birth control (but especially combination methods – estrogen + progestin) during the course of breast-feeding. But some studies have suggested that permanent alterations to women’s hormone levels (and indeed possibly even the genetic encoding of hormone generation) may result from regular contraceptive use for years before pregnancy, especially if that long-term usage is approximate to the time of pregnancy. These impacted (and abnormal) hormone levels can be passed on to the child in that case. Furthermore, the effects of the pill may have already been “passed on” in the early prenatal stage or even genetically. The fact is we just don’t have enough science on the matter, and partly because the governmental authorities and lobbies/corporate interests involved don’t have an interest in the kinds of studies we’re talking about being conducted on a large scale. But your point is well taken, nonetheless; and, of course, my point in raising the question about that one particular potential side-effect of birth control was merely a chosen illustration, ancillary to my main argument (so chosen because anytime you involve babies you get that “pathos” appeal, a motif more central to my theme).

  4. My question would be whether the company objects to being compelled to cover chemotherapy, beta blockers, cholesterol lowering meds, Viagra, etc. Is a member of their workforce free to seek amoxicillin for a sore throat, but contraceptives are a big no? That would influence whether I buy their higher motives.

  5. Please explain how no contraception = no chemotherapy either.

  6. Richard Aleman

    The purpose of public health care is to pursue cures and remedies that are in the public interest. Among other things, the purpose of contraception is to prevent pregnancy for the sake of sexual recreation. In other words, contraception is a private interest, not in the public interest. Government has no business forcing the private interests of individuals over the public interest of the common good.
    .
    For proponents of HHS, it seems contraception should become a matter for public policy to resolve without any public discussion over whether a) contraception is in the public interest, b) whether contraception is harmful to the human body, particularly to women and, c) why employers should be forced to violate their conscience over a private interest.
    .
    I find it curious, by the way, that McDonald’s will receive an exemption. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704789404575524502131067836.html

  7. Katie,

    Here is a link to the statement issued by Michael Potter, President of Eden Foods: http://www.edenfoods.com/articles/view.php?articles_id=219

    In it, he explains that their current plan does not include what they dub as “lifestyle drugs.” Here is the pertinent quote:

    “Eden employee benefits include health, dental, vision, life, and a fifty percent 401k match. The benefits have not funded “lifestyle drugs,” an insurance industry drug classification that includes contraceptives, Viagra, smoking cessation, weight-loss, infertility, impotency, etc. This entire plan is managed with a goal of long-term sustainability.”

    Now, what they are objecting to with the HHS mandate is the requirement that they (Eden Foods) fund the use of contraceptives. So, to answer your question, no they do not object to paying for insurance that covers medication that is meant to treat ailments of the body. They object to funding medications that cause intentional disruptions to the natural functions of the body (which contraception does). Here is that paragraph from the statement:

    “We believe in a woman’s right to decide, and have access to, all aspects of their health care and reproductive management. This lawsuit does not block, or intend to block, anyone’s access to health care or reproductive management. This lawsuit is about protecting religious freedom and stopping the government from forcing citizens to violate their conscience. We object to the HHS mandate and its government overreach.”

    He’s not saying that he wants contraception outlawed, he just does not want to have his company be forced by the government to be a party to it.

  8. Katie, on Eden Foods current plan, it is “lifestyle drugs” such as birth control, Viagra, and weight loss medication, that are disallowed.

  9. Just signed the petition. This is exactly the kind of coalition we should start building. Also, very glad to see that this site is back in business!

  10. Hmm ….what happens when an owner of a business is a Jehovah Witness and wants to deny coverage of blood tranfusions? Plenty of parents site religious reasons to opt out of vaccines- should business owners get to opt out of paying for those? We have selectively vaccinated our own children but I am not sure about basing medical coverage on religious convictions.

  11. Richard Aleman

    Hi Donna, thank you for asking.
    .
    Contraception doesn’t cure or prevent disease. Contraception’s raison d’être is to prevent pregnancy, to separate reproduction from the sexual act. Odd that a purely private interest (to procure free contraception) should be imposed on the public interest. Yet when a private interest not to cover contraceptin arises, the same private interest group in favor of contraceptives accuse it of being sectarian.
    .
    The “blood transfusion argument,” that is, that faith-based arguments against providing coverage are sectarian and biased, presupposes the faith-based “good” of abortion, sterilization and contraception.
    .
    We should be asking ourselves whether contraception coverage and contraceptives themselves are beneficial to the common good. Oddly, although most political decisions are moral decisions, we are asked to abandon the moral debate altogether. We are also asked to ignore that the noble resistance against Big Agriculture and Big Pharma on the basis of the chemical-free health benefits of sustainable foods conflicts with its embrace of the contraceptive industry, particularly with what the World Health Organization classifies as group one carcinogens for breast, liver, and cervical cancers and make women susceptible to immune disorders such as HIV and other STDs.

  12. Thank you for your reply Richard…I think it is a little more complicated than what you present. Oral contraceptives are used to alleviate the symptoms of different menstrual disorders. Personally, I think in most cases it is a band aid solution but there are certainly cases where women have found relief from debilitating symptoms. My understanding is that chemotherapy is itself carcinogenic – not only does it put the person at risk for future cancers but puts society at risk by the disposal of medical waste. The whole realm of nuclear medicine is also an issue. Slippery slopes. I just don’t think you can argue against contraception without opening the door to *any* religion also considering their positions on medical issues.

  13. “Oral contraceptives are used to alleviate the symptoms of different menstrual disorders.”

    I would point out that Eden Food’s current plan covers using artificial estrogen for menstrual *disorders*. It does not cover it for contraceptive use, because that is a *lifestyle choice*, just as it doesn’t cover Viagra nor does it cover weight loss pills.

    In a moral decision, even a political one, one must consider not just effect, but intent. So I would assume, Donna, that you are fine with disallowing contraceptives for the purpose of contraception, but merely want an “out” for other uses?

  14. And yes, Donna, we should open the door to considering religious issues. As Nostra Aetate teaches, there is truth hiding in every religion on the planet- why would we want to ignore wisdom in favor of the easy way out?

  15. donna:

    The objections to the HHS mandate are objections to provide contraceptives qua contraceptives. Catholics don’t object to the use of hormones to cure ills of the body, like when they are used to regulate painful menstrual cycles.

    Most, if not all, Catholic institutions that do not currently supply coverage for “the pill” as contraceptives DO supply coverage for “the pill” as a therapeutic medicine.

    With regard to the problem of Christian Scientists or the like wanting to withhold coverage for blood transfusions, I think it is important to consider the legal concept of freedom of religion in the US. In order for a law to not run afoul of the free exercise clause, it must meet specific criteria. It must be a compelling public interest, it must be applied broadly, and it must be the least restrictive means for the government to do it. With regards to the HHS mandate, I think it clearly runs afoul of the second criteria. The HHS mandate is NOT applied broadly. There is an explicit house of worship exemption, there is an “accommodation” for religiously affiliated organizations, and entire companies are exempted depending on the number of their employees. So, I think on those grounds alone Eden Foods has a strong case. I think there are also plenty of arguments that can be made that the provision of free contraceptives is not a compelling state interest (though that is a decidedly value based discussion) and I believe, even if it were, there are ways that it could be done that would not implicate religious people.

  16. There is always Margaret Sanger’s idea- and it could be worse- they could require contraceptives to be added to the water supply of every city that exceeds a population density of 3.2 people per acre, and require parenting classes for a 9 month supply of the antidote.

  17. Thank you, kind sir, for providing some much needed perspective in the public discourse of such issues. I came across your blog in my quest for more education on distributism. Although apparently outlined and cultivated by a very strong “Catholic” base, the ideology of distributism seems absolutely “evangelical” to me, (And I have always enjoy G. K. Chesterton anyway). Simply remaining logically consistent and true to fundamental beliefs requires us to think. We often need mental chiropractic care far more then we need our spines adjusted. Being misaligned within our personal philosophical and religious paradigms often goes unnoticed because our thinking goes unquestioned. Unsupported opinions are an entitlement, in American culture anyway. Apparently, Mr. Potter has cogently presented a very rational and reasonable case, based on his core values. I appreciate your efforts to point this out.

  18. Dear Pastor Craig,

    Thanks very much for your kind words and for your interest. It is our pleasure here at the DR to continue providing a resource for learning about Distributism and its practical applications in today’s world. I hope you will continue to be a reader and a member of our community here. It is my hope that Distributism becomes a vehicle for God’s blessings on the world and especially on Christians of every background, an agreeable philosophy around which coalitions and consensus can be built, that might bring us all the more closer to the fulfillment of Christ’s wish that we “all be one” (cf. John 17:21).